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What is friluftsliv and how could it help people’s wellbeing during the COVID-19 era?

05 Oct 2020
The pandemic’s outbreak caused many people to use time in nature as a coping mechanism and an outlet to deal with the global health crisis and subsequent lockdown.

In Scandinavia, time outdoors is passionately encouraged and even celebrated, using the philosophy of ‘friluftsliv’ which is deeply rooted in the nation’s history.

The term was originally coined by Norwegian poet, Henrik Ibsen, who used the term to describe the ‘value of spending time in remote locations for spiritual and physical wellbeing’, according to BBC Worklife.

Translated loosely as ‘open-air living’, friluftsliv is the Scandinavian concept of celebrating the outdoors and the important connection between humans and nature.

Prior to COVID-19, the increasingly urbanised and fast-paced world made it harder for people to both easily access natural spaces and make time to explore them.

However, growing numbers of people are spending more time outdoors and it seems this could have the potential to improve physical and mental health too, with scientists providing a host of evidence to support that nature is beneficial for wellbeing.

For example, research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 2003 indicated that trees and woodlands can have a healing effect on the mind, while a 2010 study by scientists at the University of Essex’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society found that regular nature walks can improve mental wellness.

Another article – published in 2015 with American Academy of the Sciences – even went so far as to call natural areas "vital for mental health".

With this in mind, friluftsliv could become a driver to help people sustain their wellbeing using nature during the pandemic and potential future lockdowns. It could be used as a celebratory concept to inspire people to spend even more time outdoors and take it up with a newfound enthusiasm.

As spas have reopened, many have begun embracing the outdoors, with Glen Ivy Hot Springs offering outdoor treatments and Lefay’s Lake Garda resort launching guided wellness retreats in nature.

"Even before COVID-19, more and more academic studies were highlighting the benefits of prescribing a connection with nature and the great outdoors,” said Dr Carlo Barbieri, president of Lefay’s Spa Method Scientific Committee.

“Physical issues such as joint pain and obesity as well as mental states of anxiety and depression are all proven to benefit from connection with nature and outdoor activities.”

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